Conversations With Myself

A Novel by Altimexis

The Whispers of Time
 
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Book One • Chapter 5 — Like a Spinning Top

April 1995 • Chris-29

“Where’s Jack?” I asked when I got to the lab. I had just had my meeting with him yesterday and as I’d expected, he’d been skeptical at best when I related how Chris-36 had come to me in my dreams. Still, he’d had a hard time brushing off the personal information I’d been given to tell him — information I couldn’t possibly have known about him — information no one else could have known about him. In the end, he’d agreed to track down and verify the data that I’d passed on to him from Chris-36. This data was supposed to prove to Jack that the order to build the time tunnel had come from the White House itself.

But where was Jack? He was usually the first person to arrive at the lab each morning, and he was nowhere to be seen. It was then that I noticed the somber looks on everyone’s faces. In fact, more than a few people looked like they’d been crying, and not just the women.

It was Cindy, one of the lab assistants, who took me by the arm and led me to a small table in the corner of our ‘break room’, which was really nothing more than a corner partitioned out of secretarial space.

Taking my hand in hers, Cindy looked at me with her bloodshot eyes and said, “Chris, there was an accident this morning. God, I don’t know how to tell you this, but Susan was on her way with the kids to school this morning when a semi ran a red light. They were all killed instantly.”

My eyes widened in shock and then I slammed my fist down on the table, undoubtedly surprising everyone around me. I was normally so calm and collected, and I rarely expressed any anger. Slamming my fist was totally out of character for me.

“Those bastards!” I shouted. “Those thoughtless bastards! So this is what they meant by a ‘life-altering event.’ Hah! They could’ve prevented it!”

“Chris, what are you talking about?” Cindy asked me.

Slowly, my anger subsided and I remembered where I was, and the implications of my actions began to reassert themselves in my brain. There were consequences to what knowledge of the future could really do. Had I known about the accident and passed my knowledge on to Jack, and had he acted on that knowledge to save his wife and children, three people who were supposed to have died on this date would have gone on to affect the future for decades to come. His children would have had children of their own, and then great grandchildren and great great grandchildren and so on. One of them might have found a cure for cancer, or become a mass murderer. There was no telling what the consequences might have been.

Of course the reverse was possible too. Perhaps Jack would one day remarry and raise a family with his second wife. If we had intervened to prevent the accident, what might have become of those children, grand children and great grandchildren? If they’d never been born, would we be guilty of murder?

Turning back to Cindy, I said, “I’m sorry, I was just in shock is all.”

“We all are, Chris,” she agreed. “Apology accepted.”

“Any word on when the funeral will be?” I asked.

“No definite plans yet, but I’m hearing it’ll probably be on Friday,” she replied.

“Has anyone started a collection for flowers or food or anything?” I asked.

“Betsy’s handling that,” she answered.

“Thanks, I’ll stop by her desk as soon as I have a chance,” I replied as I gently squeezed her hand.

As I stood up and looked out across the lab area, I couldn’t help but think about the craziness of what we were doing in OTT, sending information back and forth through time, building tunnels within my brain so that my thoughts could pass freely from older me to younger me and back again while I dreamed.

Building a time tunnel machine was going to be a major challenge for me, particularly since I still had to continue my regular research. If I didn’t continue the research I’d been doing, the original TTT would never come to fruition and OTT would never come to pass in the first place. After what had just happened, I had no doubt that Jack would sign off on the purchase of the equipment needed for OTT, but we’d undoubtedly need to hire more personnel to make it happen, too. In the federal government, the wheels of bureaucracy turn ever so slowly, so we’d probably need to shift personnel from other programs rather than hiring people off the street, so to speak, but I’d have to run that by Chris-38 to make sure we didn’t inadvertently take anyone off mission-critical projects.

While my most immediate concern was getting my own time tunnel up and running, my most challenging concern was coming up with a design for TTT that would be practical for Chris-22 or, more realistically, Chris-23 at the rate things were going, to implement. There was no way a graduate student would have access to the resources I had at my disposal. Would he be able to build a 64-element micro-emitter/detector array? The technology to build it might be available, but he simply wouldn’t have the finances, the equipment or the facilities to build one, and we simply didn’t have the time to wait for a National Science Foundation grant cycle, assuming the unlikelihood that Chris-22 could even get a six-figure NSF grant while still in graduate school in the first place.

Somehow Chris-43, Chris-36 and I needed to come up with a much simpler design for the emitter/detector array, though God knows how we would do it when they’d both had years on me to perfect it already. On top of that, we’d need to dramatically simplify the associated circuitry to work with what would be available in the 1980’s, simplify the software yet again and get it to run on the micro VAX’s that were ubiquitous in universities during that time period. Hopefully, we’d find one with an image processing array that we could adapt for our purposes — otherwise we’d be dead meat. The low-megahertz clock speeds and ten-megabyte RAM partitions of the micro-VAX would never cut it on their own.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

June 1988 • Chris-22

For 22 years, I’d been living the life I thought I was supposed to live. Growing up in St. Louis, in the Midwest, in the ‘Bible Belt’, of all places, I just assumed that the American Dream, with a wife and 2.4 kids was the way life was supposed to be. Life in Junior High had been absolute Hell, but somehow I’d survived it, and things actually settled down in high school. Not that I was ever part of any clique or any thing — I was always pretty much a loner and I never once dated, but I accepted that I could be whoever I wanted to be and buried myself in my books.

One would have thought that once I left the Midwest and started school at Stanford, a mere hour south of San Francisco, the gay Mecca of the world, I would have figured things out, but no, I was still hung up on wanting to have the perfect hetero life with a wife and 2.4 kids.

At first I just buried myself in my studies, just like I did in high school, but there was something about dorm life that makes it hard to stay in your shell. And lets face it; your right hand only gets you so far.

The dating scene was scary at first, but once I lost my virginity, there was no going back. That it was with a girl was irrelevant — it could have been with a sheep and I would have gotten off — not to denigrate the woman I was with, but after seventeen years of no one touching me in a sexual way but myself, any skin touching my skin would have sent me over the edge.

With time, it became easier and easier to convince myself that I really did want women. Sexually, intercourse with a woman was certainly satisfying — a hell of a lot more satisfying that with my own palm — and the companionship of a woman was nice. For the first time in my life, I was having fun, although it did occasionally trouble me that I boned up seeing a cute guy now and then. That almost never happened to me when I saw a girl.

Jennifer Wilson, however, was special. I met her toward the end of my Junior year. I wouldn’t go so far to say it was love at first sight, but I knew right away she was different from the other women I’d dated, and from the handful of girlfriends I’d had. She was older than me, working on her masters thesis in Lowery’s lab. She was incredibly bright — a chemistry major with expertise on quantum chemistry. It was truly a match made in heaven.

After dating for about a year, we decided to move in together. We found a small one-bedroom place in Mountain View — it wasn’t much, but it was ours. We were so in love with each other.

Everything was going perfectly until the day I met Paul Langley. Paul was a graduate student in Minton’s lab, where I’d just started work on my Ph.D. When I met Paul, I suddenly realized what was missing from my relationship with Jen — what had always been missing from my relationships with women. Yes, I loved Jen the way best friends might love each other. Yes, I enjoyed sex with her the way best friends could enjoy fooling around with each other. Had I never met Paul, I might have been able to have a charade of a marriage with Jen, but it would have never been real.

With Paul, everything was different. Right away, there was a physical attraction that neither of us could deny. To say he was handsome would have been an understatement, but it was more than that — he had a sparkling personality that just drew you in and made you want to get to know him better. He was funny and witty — and kind. As I got to know him better during my first weeks in the lab and as I went out for drinks with him and some of the other graduate students, I found myself undeniably being drawn to him. I simply couldn’t help it.

Then one afternoon he asked me if I’d like to go out for dinner and maybe to catch a movie. I felt a little guilty about it, like I was cheating on Jen, but I figured I was just going out with one of my buddies from the lab. I called Jen and told her I had a late night experiment I had to ‘babysit’ and told her to not wait up for me. This wasn’t the first time I’d had to stay late at the lab, so I knew she wouldn’t suspect anything.

Paul and I first hit up a Chinese restaurant on El Camino Real near the university, and then we saw Big, with Tom Hanks, which had just come out in theaters. What a funny movie! Afterwards, Paul asked if I’d like to go back to his place for a drink. Well, I wasn’t naïve and I knew exactly where this was leading, but I didn’t care. We never did get around to having that drink.

Before that night, I’d always thought of gay sex as something abnormal and vulgar. Paul dispelled that notion. He was loving and gentle, and showed me that gay sex could be every bit as wonderful and beautiful as sex with a woman, if not more so.

Before the morning light, I learned much about oral and anal sex, and about how to give and to receive. I learned about the perineum and the prostate, and how sensual the texture of the scrotum could be. I also learned that the smell of a man is oh so much more erotic than that of a woman — at least to me, it was.

For me, there would be no going back. I had finally come to accept that I was gay, and that for me, the American dream did not include a wife and 2.4 kids. The problem was that, for better or for worse, I already did have a girlfriend whom I loved dearly and the last thing I wanted to do was to hurt her. Somehow, I was going to have to find a way to let her down gently.

Paul was a great guy. I wasn’t sure if he was ‘the one’, but I knew I wanted to pursue our relationship further, and it wouldn’t be fair to do it while I was still living with Jen. I’d cheated on her this once and I’d be damned if I was going to do it again — that just wouldn’t be fair to her or Paul. Short of telling her I was gay, I was going to have to break off our relationship, but this was something I’d never done before.

When I finally crawled into bed in the early daylight hours, Jen asked me how the experiment had gone. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself as I told her it had gone very well — better than expected, actually.

Before I drifted off to sleep, she said, “Honey, I have some very important news. Don’t leave for the campus without talking to me, OK?” That sure got my attention.

“What is it, Jen?” I asked.

“Not now, sweetheart. You’re tired. Ask me once you’ve rested.”

“But now I won’t be able to go to sleep,” I protested.

“You won’t be able to go to sleep after I tell you what I have to say,” she tried to explain. I guess she was trying to reassure me, but it wasn’t working.

“Jen, if you don’t tell me, I’ll never get any sleep.”

“Well, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you,” she started to say. “You see, I’m late for my period.” That got me to sit bolt upright in bed. “Just relax, honey,” she said as she put her hand on my knee. “Anyway, I took a pregnancy test… and… I’m pregnant. We’re going to be parents.”

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

July 1995 • Chris-29

Watching my children play, I couldn’t help but swell with pride, and yet I remembered how my life had changed in the early days of my life with Jen. Just when I was finally ready to accept that there even was a closet, let alone that it was something I could actually come out of, Jen found she was pregnant and that changed everything. Suddenly, whether or not I was gay or straight didn’t really matter any more. I was going to be a father and that meant I had responsibilities.

First came Andy, and sleepless nights and breastfeeding (at least I didn’t have to do that) and diapers and all the wonderful things that went with having a baby in the house. But I didn’t mind any of that, because Andy was our kid, and he was beautiful, and he was loving, and he was so totally dependent on us, and we loved him more than anything in the world.

Then just as I thought our lives might begin to settle down, along came Karen. I couldn’t get over how different two personalities could be! I used to think all babies were alike, but these two couldn’t be more different. Andy was so rambunctious and outgoing and active and effusive. Karen was so shy — she just seemed to want to crawl up inside of herself. I wanted to do everything I could to protect her.

But then an amazing thing happened — Andy became the protective older brother. He started watching out for her whenever they were around other kids. How’d that happen?

So I was watching Andy play with his Nintendo, and Karen was playing with one of those spinning tops that little kids like to play with — you know, the kind with a handle you push down on that makes the top spin rapidly around while sparkles of colors spread out on top. As I watched Karen playing with her top, something suddenly clicked in my head. My mind went instantly from family and kids to my lab.

All along, we’d been focusing on a stationary array of 64 quartz emitter/detector elements. Because the elements had to be packed so closely together, they had to be precision machined — indeed, we called it a micro array. We were well on our way to building our own micro-emitter/detector array in this time period which we would soon use to contact my counterpart back in 1988, but there was absolutely no way Chris-22 would ever be able to fabricate such a precision-engineered emitter/detector array himself. Not that it couldn’t be done in his time period — he’d just never be able to access the finances, the resources, the equipment or the facilities to do so.

But now, here I was watching a spinning top — a child’s toy — and I was wondering why in Hell the emitter/detector array had to be stationary. Sure, it would be more challenging to build an array in which the elements were moving, particularly when it came to the interconnects to the physical world, but it would be a lot easier to solve those problems than the miniaturization problem.

The more I thought about it, the more excited I became. Instead of a fixed array, we could mount the array inside of a spinning cylinder. The cylinder would need to be perfectly balanced, but that would be no different than balancing the wheel of a spinning tire. Indeed, automotive wheel bearings would probably work quite nicely for our application. Rather than using 64 emitter/detectors, we could get by with a much smaller number — by spinning them around inside the cylinder, they would still provide coverage of the entire volume inside the cylinder. The precision of the gyroscopic effect and speed would have to be precise, but it wouldn’t be impossible to achieve.

We could probably get by using only sixteen emitter/detectors, which would mean they could be much larger, which would make them a lot less expensive to fabricate. Even with the added complexity of the bearings, motor, position sensors and multiplexors, I expected my spinning top design would cost less than one tenth as much to manufacture as the 64-element design, if that much.

I couldn’t wait to discuss it with Chris-36.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

July 1988 • Chris-22

Once the initial shock had worn off, the idea of becoming a daddy was actually pretty cool. I mean, here I’d convinced myself that having a wife and 2.4 kids didn’t matter, but the reality was that I’d grown up all my life wanting just that. I’d already sown my wild oats, mostly with girls, but the truth was, I’d gotten it out of my system like I was supposed to. Sure, there was a part of me that wished I could have had more time to explore things further with Paul — a big part of me — but that was over. It had to end.

When I told Paul the news that Jen was pregnant, I could see the look of intense disappointment on his face. There was a fleeting moment when he let his guard down and I could tell that he was thinking about what might have been. Truthfully, so was I, but that was irrelevant now. I was a father to be.

I really got into the baby spirit with Jen as we went together for her prenatal checkups, for the amnio and the ultrasounds and all. All the other students in both our labs were pairing off and getting married, or if not getting married, at least having kids. Now it was our turn. This was the way it was supposed to be. This was what life was all about.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

July 1995 • Chris-29

“A spinning top?” Chris-36 echoed my comment. “It’s amazing where your ideas come from. That would simplify the fabrication of the individual emitter/detectors quite a bit, but at the expense of quite a bit more complexity for the apparatus overall. Still, I think you’re right… it would bring costs down considerably. My biggest concern is what would happen if a bearing seized up in the middle of a communication.”

“What happens when a bearing seizes up on a semi, or in a jet engine? How often does that happen?” I asked.

“I see your point,” Chris-36 admitted. “I just guess I’m being paranoid, and we could always design the equipment to simply interrupt the time tunnel completely in the event of a malfunction, rather than take a chance on a distorted quantum event.”

“Works for me,” I interjected.

“Your idea of using automotive wheel bearings, Chris-29, is a bit naïve, however. A car can tolerate a fair bit of wheel wobble. The occupants will never notice a millimeter or two of shimmy, let alone several micrometers, yet our tolerances would have to be accurate down to the nanometer scale.”

“Yikes, you’re right,” I sheepishly admitted.

“Fortunately, the equipment you need isn’t nearly as hard to come by as you may think, and a complete assembly can be had at a reasonable cost. This sort of problem comes up in optics laboratories all the time. If you flip through some optics catalogs, you’ll find a ton of stepper motors designed to do just what we’re looking for. With precision bearings, they’ll allow for no more wobble than a quarter wavelength in the visible spectrum. With a digitally controlled direct-drive stepper mechanism, there’ll be no need for a separate position sensor. The one thing they’re not, is fast, but you’ll find models into the hundreds of RPM’s… maybe as high as a thousand. If you do the calculations, I think you’ll find that’s adequate.”

“Wow, I wouldn’t have even thought of looking in an optics catalog,” I said.

“Once in a while, age and experience come in handy,” Chris-36 chuckled.

“Now if we could just come up with a way to download software from the brain to a micro-VAX computer.” I lamented.

“That’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Chris-36 admitted. “Up to now, we’ve been able to fall back on standard algorithms from books and treatises, making only simple embellishments that haven’t been hard to pass on through your dreams. You won’t have that to fall back on in working with Chris-22, or perhaps he’ll be 23 by the time we come up with a solution.”

“Yeah, it probably will take another year… or more, and you’re right about the software issues. Kelvin and Hobson’s treatise won’t have come out yet, nor will have Wilson et al.’s groundbreaking work on recursion. Maybe I can turn the code into a melody I could memorize, then get Chris-22 to memorize it and then get him to turn it back into code again.”

“You know, that’s a very intriguing idea,” Chris-36 said, “but I seriously doubt it would work. You can memorize a symphony because it’s consists of a series of pleasing, repetitive patterns. Although computer code certainly contains patterns, even set to music, I suspect it would sound like random gibberish.”

“I know, I know,” I said. “It was just a thought. We’d probably have better luck embedding it in an image, but you’d have to hypnotize Chris-22 to get the details out of him, or at least teach him to hypnotize himself.”

“You know, that might actually work,” Chris-36 suggested, “but it would take a lot of images to convey all the code involved, and it would be exhausting on the both of you, but probably easier than trying to actually memorize the code itself. Visual memory is a powerful resource.”

Changing the subject, Chris-36 continued, “So I know the equipment is nearly ready, but are you ready for first contact?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever be ready,” I admitted. “I’m the first one of us who’ll be contacting someone who has no idea what this is all about. I knew right away what was happening. Chris-22 won’t have a clue. He’ll have barely started to think of quantum variations, but won’t have even considered the possibility of using them to send information back in time. He’ll scoff at the notion that I’m from the future. Right now, he’s self-absorbed in his girlfriend’s pregnancy and his dissertation, and in applying for his post-doc. On top of all that, he’s a natural skeptic.”

“Chris, I know all of that as well as you do. We’ve gone over all of this before and you know just what to do. You’ll do fine. Confronted by the evidence, Chris-22 will have no choice but to accept the most logical explanation for the information at hand, and conclude that he has been contacted by himself from the future. You’ll do fine… you know you will. I know you will.

“Anyway, you need take a few months yet to test the equipment and to verify that it’s safe to use. I cannot emphasize enough that you cannot jump in too soon. If you use the equipment too quickly, before you’ve been able to verify that it’s safe, you could risk serious brain damage. And no amount of TTT can restore your damaged brain. I don’t need to tell you that if you damage your brain, you also damage my brain and TTT will never come to pass”

“And we would have a fundamental paradox. Don’t worry, Chris-36. I’ll be damned well sure that the equipment works before I use it on myself. And the time spent on testing the equipment will give me time to think of how best to approach our younger self.”

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

October 1988 • Chris-22

The feeling was… strange. There was no other way to put it. I mean, I knew I was dreaming, but this was different from any other dream I’d ever had in my life. It almost felt like an ‘out of body experience’ — like I was floating above our bed — not that I could actually look down and see my body or see Jen below me or anything — it just felt that way.

I also felt as if there was another presence there with me. Someone was there besides me and besides Jen, but it wasn’t Jen. It was almost as if there was someone inside my head with me — someone who was me, but they weren’t me. Weird!

Slowly, an image formed in front of me. It was me, but it wasn’t me! The ‘me’ that formed before me was older — maybe five or six or seven years older, and something wasn’t right. Wait a minute! They were backwards! No, they weren’t backwards. Their mole was on the other side from where it was supposed to be, but that was if I looked in the mirror. This was the way I looked in my photographs — the way other people saw me. So I was seeing myself in my dream as other people might see me in five or six or seven years from now, but why?

“Hello Chris,” the vision in my dream spoke to me. Why did it speak to me? Why did it need to speak to me if it was in my dream? Wouldn’t I know what it was thinking?

“Who are you?” I asked it.

“I know this is all very strange to you. I know how surprised I was the first time I was approached by a vision of my older self in my sleep.

“Right now, you are working on something called quantum variations and have just started to hypothesize the existence of paired quantum states involving particles occupying different points in time. Eventually, you will realize you can use these quantum variations to create tunnels connecting points in time, and that these tunnels can be used to pass information back and forth through time.

“It will take you a long time, but twenty years from now you will perfect a method for sending your thoughts back in time, up to seven years. The only hitch is that the recipient needs to be asleep for it to work, and so the ‘conversation’ can only take place in your dreams.”

“That’s pretty wild, man,” I started to say, “but sending messages to me in my sleep? I’ve had some pretty bizarre dreams in my day, but wait ’til Jen hears this one! Wow, this one takes the cake! How did my mind ever fabricate this one?”

“This isn’t really a dream, Chris,” the vision said to me. “Can’t you feel it? You aren’t in control, but don’t take my word for it. I’ll give you all the evidence you’ll need in a minute, but first let me explain why we’re doing this.

“The world is not such a wonderful place, but for the time being, everything will seem to work out the way it should in the world. Right now, you live in one of the most exciting times in history. You won’t believe what I tell you, but you need only wait a few months and years to see that what I tell you is the truth. You’ve already seen the unrest in the Warsaw Pact countries and the start of the fall of communism. In less than three years, the Berlin Wall will fall. It will fall, Chris, and Germany will be reunited as a democracy and become a part of NATO. What starts in the Warsaw pact will ultimately hit Russia itself, where a failed coup will lead to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

“Just when it looks like student protests in Beijing will lead to a similar result in China, a brutal crackdown will prove to the world that Communism isn’t dead yet. By the time you’re in your forties, Chris, a resurgent Russia, a Chinese superpower, an Iranian nuclear superpower and an America, teetering on the abyss of a second great depression will result in a world that has never been so close to self-destruction since 1939.

“We suspect the world will come to an end some time after 2012. We think there will be a nuclear war that starts in the Middle East and spreads to involve the entire planet. In a last-ditch effort to find a way to prevent this, the President has ordered us to establish a chain of communication back to the 1970’s so we can fix the mistakes we made that ultimately led to the mess we’re in.”

“It’s dangerous to mess with time,” I said, still not really buying any of the crap the vision was feeding me. Sure, the fall of communism was far-fetched, but with all that was going on, it wasn’t that far-fetched any more.

“Believe me, we wouldn’t be doing any of this if we didn’t have to. Operation Time Tunnel really is a last resort… a last ditch effort to save humanity,” he said. “By the way, you can call me Chris-29.”

“OK,” I said, going along with the dream, “and I guess that makes me Chris-22 for now.”

“Exactly.”

“But I still need more proof that this is all real,” I protested.

“I would have been disappointed in you if you didn’t,” Chris-29 said. “Tomorrow, when you go to the lab, there’ll be a letter waiting for you from Rankin. I don’t need to tell you you’ve been waiting for that letter. You’ll go to see him in the afternoon. When you do, he will say, and I quote, ‘Fatherhood’s a lot of responsibility for someone working on a post-doc. My students generally eat, drink and breathe their work when they’re in my lab. How do you plan to balance being a new dad and being up all night with feedings and diapers plus handling the heavy responsibilities of working in the premier quantum physics lab in the world?’ Your answer, by the way, and I’m not going to tell you what it is, will blow him away. He won’t offer you the post-doc you want… not unless you agree to stay for two years, but he’ll make you an offer you won’t be able to refuse.”

The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of David of Hope and Anthony Camacho in editing this story, as well as the support of Awesome Dude for hosting it.
This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals other than named historical figures is purely coincidental and unintentional. Some characters may be gay and at times engage in homosexual acts. Because the story explores characters at various stages of their lives, they may be underage during early sexual explorations. Obviously, anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. The author retains full copyright, and permission must be obtained prior to duplication of the story in any form.

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